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Full text of "The story of a thousand-year pine"

EnosA.Mffls j 





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University of California Berkeley 



(Enos 3U 



YOUR NATIONAL PARKS. Illustrated. 
THE STORY OF SCOTCH. Illustrated. 
THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN WONDERLAND. 

Illustrated. 
THE STORY OF A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE. 

Illustrated. 

IN BEAVER WORLD. Illustrated. 
THE SPELL OF THE ROCKIES. Illustrated. 
WILD LIFE ON THE ROCKIES. Illustrated. 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 
BOSTON AND NEW YORK 



THE STORY OF A 
THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 




THE STORY OF A 
THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 



BY 

ENOS A. MILLS 

ILLUSTRATED 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 
fctoergibe j 



COPYRIGHT, IQOQ AND 1914, BY BNOS A. MILLS 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

A VETERAN WESTERN YELLOW PINE 

Frontispiece 

SOME OF " OLD PINE'S " NEIGHBORS . 8 
CLIFF DWELLINGS ON THE MESA VERDE 24 
THE MESA VERDE 36 




THE STORY OF A 
THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 





THE peculiar charm and fascination 
that trees exert over many people I 
had always felt from childhood, but 
it was that great nature-lover, John 
Muir, who first showed me how and 
where to learn their language. Few 
trees, however, ever held for me such 
an attraction as did a gigantic and 
3 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

venerable yellow pine which I dis- 
covered one autumn day several years 
ago while exploring the southern 
Rockies. It grew within sight of the 
Cliff-Dwellers' Mesa Verde, which 
stands at the corner of four States, 
and as I came upon it one evening 
just as the sun was setting over that 
mysterious tableland, its character 
and heroic proportions made an im- 
pression upon me that I shall never 
forget, and which familiar acquaint- 
ance only served to deepen while it yet 
lived and before the axeman came. 
Many a time I returned to build my 
camp-fire by it and have a day or a 
night in its solitary and noble com- 
pany. I learned afterwards that it had 
been given the name "Old Pine," and 
it certainly had an impressiveness 
4 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

quite compatible with the age and dig- 
nity which go with a thousand years 
of life. 

When, one day, the sawmill-man at 
Mancos wrote, "Come, we are about 
to log your old pine," I started at 
once, regretting that a thing which 
seemed to me so human, as well as so 
noble, must be killed. 

I went with the axemen who were 
to cut the old pine down. A grand 
and impressive tree he was. Never 
have I seen so much individuality, so 
much character, in a tree. Although 
lightning had given him a bald crown, 
he was still a healthy giant, and was 
waving evergreen banners more than 
one hundred and fifteen feet above the 
earth. His massive trunk, eight feet in 
diameter at the level of my breast, 
5 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

was covered with a thick, rough, gol- 
den-brown bark which was broken 
into irregular plates. Several of his 
arms were bent and broken. Alto- 
gether, he presented a timeworn but 
heroic appearance. 

It is almost a marvel that trees 
should live to become the oldest of 
living things. Fastened in one place, 
their struggle is incessant and severe. 
From the moment a baby tree is born 
from the instant it casts its tiny 
shadow upon the ground until 
death, it is in danger from insects and 
animals. It cannot move to avoid 
danger. It cannot run away to escape 
enemies. Fixed in one spot, almost 
helpless, it must endure flood and 
drought, fire and storm, insects and 
earthquakes, or die. 
6 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

Trees, like people, struggle for exist- 
ence, and an aged tree, like an aged 
person, has not only a striking appear- 
ance, but an interesting biography. I 
have read the autobiographies of 
many century-old trees, and have 
found their life-stories strange and 
impressive. The yearly growth, or an- 
nual ring of wood with which trees en- 
velop themselves, is embossed with so 
many of their experiences that this 
annual ring of growth literally forms 
an autobiographic diary of the tree's 
life. 

I wanted to read Old Pine's auto- 
biography. A veteran pine that had 
stood on the southern Rockies and 
struggled and triumphed through the 
changing seasons of hundreds of years 
must contain a rare life-story. From 
7 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

his stand between the Mesa and the 
pine-plumed mountain, he had seen 
the panorama of the seasons and many 
a strange pageant; he had beheld what 
scenes of animal and human strife, 
what storms and convulsions of na- 
ture! Many a wondrous secret he had 
locked within his tree soul. Yet, al- 
though he had not recorded what he 
had seen, I knew that he had kept a 
fairly accurate diary of his own per- 
sonal experience. This I knew the saw 
would reveal, and this I had deter- 
mined to see. 

Nature matures a million conifer 
seeds for each one she chooses for 
growth, so we can only speculate as to 
the selection of the seed from which 
sprung this storied pine. It may be 
that the cone in which it matured was 
8 




SOME OF U OLD PINE\s" NEIGHBORS 
(Western Yellow Pines) 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

crushed into the earth by the hoof of 
a passing deer. It may have been hid- 
den by a jay; or, as is more likely, 
the tree may have grown from one of 
the uneaten cones which a squirrel 
had buried for winter food. Fremont 
squirrels are the principal nurserymen 
for all the Western pineries. Each au- 
tumn they harvest a heavy percent- 
age of the cone crop and bury it for 
winter. The seeds in the uneaten 
cones germinate, and each year count- 
less thousands of conifers grow from 
the seeds planted by these squirrels. 
It may be that the seed from which 
Old Pine burst had been planted by 
an ancient ancestor of the protest- 
ing Fremont squirrel whom we found 
that day in apparent possession of the 
premises; or this seed may have been 
9 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

in a cone which simply bounded or 
blew into a hole, where the seed found 
sufficient mould and moisture to give 
it a start in life. 




n 





II 

Two loggers swung their axes : at the 
first blow a Fremont squirrel came out 
of a hole at the base of a dead limb 
near the top of the tree and made an 
aggressive claim of ownership, setting 
up a vociferous protest against the 
cutting. As his voice was unheeded, 
he came scolding down the tree, 
13 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

jumped off one of the lower limbs, and 
took refuge in a young pine that stood 
near by. From time to time he came 
out on the top of the limb nearest to 
us, and, with a wry face, fierce whis- 
kers, and violent gestures, directed a 
torrent of abuse at the axemen who 
were delivering death-blows to Old 
Pine. 

The old pine's enormous weight 
caused him to fall heavily, and he 
came to earth with tremendous force 
and struck on an elbow of one of his 
stocky arms. The force of the fall not 
only broke the trunk in two, but badly 
shattered it. The damage to the log 
was so general that the sawmill-man 
said it would not pay to saw it into 
lumber and that it could rot on the 
spot. 

14 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

I had come a long distance for the 
express purpose of deciphering Old 
Pine's diary as the scroll of his life 
should be laid open in the sawmill. 
The abandonment of the shattered 
form compelled the adoption of an- 
other way of getting at his story. Re- 
ceiving permission to do as I pleased 
with his remains, I at once began to 
cut and split both the trunk and the 
limbs, and to transcribe their strange 
records. Day after day I worked. I 
dug up the roots and thoroughly dis- 
sected them, and with the aid of a 
magnifier I studied the trunk, the 
roots, and the limbs. 

I carefully examined the ba>se of his 

stump, and in it I found ten hundred 

and forty-seven rings of growth! He 

tad lived through a thousand and 

15 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

forty-seven memorable years. As he 
was cut down in 1903, his birth pro- 
bably occurred in 856. 

In looking over the rings of growth, 
I found that a few of them were much 
thicker than the others; and these 
thick rings, or coats of wood, tell of 
favorable seasons. There were also a 
few extremely thin rings of growth. In 
places two and even three of these 
were together. These were the results 
of unfavorable seasons, of drought 
or cold. The rings of trees also show 
healed wounds, and tell of burns, bites, 
and bruises, of torn bark and broken 
arms. Old Pine not only received in- 
juries in his early years, but from time 
to time throughout his life. The some- 
what kinked condition of several of 
the rings of growth, beginning with 
16 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

the twentieth, shows that at the age 
of twenty he sustained an injury 
which resulted in a severe curvature of 
the spine, and that for some years he 
was somewhat stooped. I was unable 
to make out from his diary whether 
this injury was the result of a tree or 
some object falling upon him and pin- 
ning him down, or whether his back 
had been overweighted and bent by 
wet, clinging snow. As I could find no 
scars or bruises, I think that snow 
must have been the cause of the in- 
jury. However, after a few years he 
straightened up with youthful vitality 
and seemed to outgrow and forget the 
experience. 

A century of tranquil life followed, 
and during these years the rapid 
growth tells of good seasons as well as 
17 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

good soil. This rapid growth also 
shows that there could not have been 
any crowding neighbors to share the 
sun and the soil. The tree had grown 
evenly in all quarters, and the pith of 
the tree was in the center. But had 
one tree grown close, on that quarter 
the old pine would have grown slower 
than on the others and have been 
thinner, and the pith would thus have 
been away from the tree's center. 

When the old pine was just com- 
pleting his one hundred and thirty- 
fifth ring of growth, he met with an ac- 
cident which I can account for only by 
assuming that a large tree that grew 
several yards away blew over, and in 
falling, stabbed him in the side with 
two dead limbs. His bark was broken 
and torn, but this healed in due time. 
18 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

Short sections of the dead limbs broke 
off, however, and were embedded in 
the old pine. Twelve years' growth 
covered them, and they remained 
hidden from view until my splitting 
revealed them. Two other wounds 
started promptly to heal and, with one 
exception, did so. 

A year or two later some ants and 
borers began excavating their deadly 
winding ways in the old pine. They 
probably started to work in one of the 
places injured by the falling tree. 
They must have had some advantage, 
or else something must have happened 
to the nuthatches and chickadees that 
year, for, despite the vigilance of these 
birds, both the borers and the ants suc- 
ceeded in establishing colonies that 
threatened injury and possibly death. 
19 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

Fortunately relief came. One day 
the chief surgeon of all the Southwest- 
ern pineries came along. This surgeon 
was the Texas woodpecker. He prob- 
ably did not long explore the ridges 
and little furrows of the bark before he 
discovered the wound or heard these 
hidden insects working. After a brief 
examination, holding his ear to the bark 
for a moment to get the location of the 
tree's deadly foe beneath, he was 
ready to act. He made two successful 
operations. Not only did these require 
him to cut deeply into the old pine 
and take out the borers, but he may 
also have had to come back from time 
to time to dress the wounds by de- 
vouring the ant-colonies which may 
have persisted in taking possession of 
them. The wounds finally healed, and 
20 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

only the splitting of the affected parts 
revealed these records, all filled with 
pitch and preserved for nearly nine 
hundred years. 

Following this, an even tenor 
marked his life for nearly three cen- 
turies. This quiet existence came to 
an end in the summer of 1301, when a 
stroke of lightning tore a limb out of 
his round top and badly shattered a 
shoulder. He had barely recovered 
from this injury when a violent wind 
tore off several of his arms. During 
the summer of 1348 he lost two of his 
largest arms. These were sound, and 
more than a foot in diameter at the 
points of breakage. As these were 
broken by a down-pressing weight or 
force, we may attribute the breaks to 
accumulations of snow. 
21 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

The oldest, largest portion of a tree 
is the short section immediately above 
the ground, and, as this lower section 
is the most exposed to accidents or 
to injuries from enemies, it generally 
bears evidence of having suffered the 
most. Within its scroll are usually 
found the most extensive and inter- 
esting autobiographical impressions. 

It is doubtful if there is any portion 
of the earth upon which there are so 
many deadly struggles as upon the 
earth around the trunk of a tree. 
Upon this small arena there are bat- 
tles fierce and wild; here nature is 
"red in tooth and claw." When a tree 
is small and tender, countless insects 
come to feed upon it. Birds come to it 
to devour these insects. Around the 
tree are daily almost merciless fights 
22 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

for existence. These death-struggles 
occur not only in the daytime, but in 
the night. Mice, rats, and rabbits de- 
stroy millions of young trees. These 
bold animals often flay baby trees in 
the daylight, and while at their deadly 
feast many a time have they been sur- 
prised by hawks, and then they are at 
a banquet where they themselves are 
eaten. The owl, the faithful night- 
watchman of trees, often swoops down 
at night, and as a result some little 
tree is splashed with the blood of the 
very animal that came to feed upon it. 
The lower section of Old Pine's 
trunk contained records which I found 
interesting. One of these in particular 
aroused my imagination. I was sawing 
off a section of this lower portion when 
the saw, with a buzz-z-z-z, suddenly 
23 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

jumped. The object struck was harder 
than the saw. I wondered what it 
could be, and, cutting the wood care- 
fully away, laid bare a flint arrowhead. 
Close to this one I found another, and 
then with care I counted the rings of 
growth to find out the year that these 
had wounded Old Pine. The outer 
ring which these arrowheads had 
pierced was the six hundred and thir- 
tieth, so that the year of this occur< 
rence was 1486. 

Had an Indian bent his bow and 
shot at a bear that had stood at bay 
backed up against this tree? Or was 
there around this tree a battle among 
Indian tribes? Is it possible that at 
this place some Cliff-Dweller scouts 
encountered their advancing foe from 
the north and opened hostilities? It 
24 




w 

Q 



W 



H 
H 





I 



O 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

may be that around Old Pine was 
fought the battle that is said to have 
decided the fate of that mysterious 
race, the Cliff-Dwellers. The imagina- 
tion insists on speculating with these 
two arrowheads, though they form a 
fascinating clue that leads us to no 
definite conclusion. But the fact re- 
mains that Old Pine was wounded by 
two Indian arrowheads some time 
during his six hundred and thirtieth 
summer. 

The year that Columbus discovered 
America, Old Pine was a handsome 
giant with a round head held more 
than one hundred feet above the earth. 
He was six hundred and thirty-six 
years old, and with the coming of the 
Spanish adventurers his lower trunk 
was given new events to record. The 
25 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

year 1540 was a particularly memora- 
ble one for him. This year brought the 
first horses and bearded men into the 
drama which was played around him. 
This year, for the first time, he felt the 
edge of steel and the tortures of fire. 
The old chronicles say that the Span- 
ish explorers found the cliff-houses in 
the year 1540. I believe that during 
this year a Spanish exploring party 
may have camped beneath Old Pine 
and built a fire against his instep, and 
that some of the explorers hacked him 
with an axe. The old pine had distinct 
records of axe and fire markings during 
the year 1540. It was not common for 
the Indians of the West to burn or 
mutilate trees, and it was common for 
the Spaniards to do so, and as these 
hackings in the tree seemed to have 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

been made with some edged tool 
sharper than any possessed by the In- 
dians, it at least seems probable that 
they were made by the Spaniards. 
At any rate, from the year 1540 
until the day of his death, Old Pine 
carried these scars on his instep. 

As the average yearly growth of the 
old pine was about the same as in trees 
similarly situated at the present time, 
I suppose that climatic conditions in 
his early days must have been similar 
to the climatic conditions of to-day. 
His records indicate periods of even 
tenor of climate, a year of extremely 
poor conditions, occasionally a year 
crowned with a bountiful wood har- 
vest. From 1540 to 1762 I found little 
of special interest. In 1762, however, 
the season was not regular. After the 
27 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

ring was well started, something, per- 
haps a cold wave, for a time checked 
his growth, and as a result the wood 
for that one year resembled two years' 
growth; yet the difference between 
this double or false ring and a regular 
one was easily detected. Old Pine's 
"hard times" experience seems to 
have been during the years 1804 
and 1805. I think it probable that 
those were years of drought. Dur- 
ing 1804 the layer of wood was the 
thinnest in his life, and for 1805 the 
only wood I could find was a layer 
which only partly covered the trunk 
of the tree, and this was exceedingly 
thin. 

From time to time in the old pine's 
record, I came across what seemed to 
be indications of an earthquake shock; 
28 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

but late in 1811 or early in 1812, I 
think there is no doubt that he experi- 
enced a violent shock, for he made ex- 
tensive records of it. This earthquake 
occurred after the sap had ceased to 
flow in 1811, and before it began to 
flow in the spring of 1812. In places 
the wood was checked and shattered. 
At one point, some distance from the 
ground, there was a bad horizontal 
break. Two big roots were broken in 
two, and that quarter of the tree which 
faced the cliffs had suffered from a rock 
bombardment. I suppose the violence 
of the quake displaced many rocks, 
and some of these, as they came 
bounding down the mountain-side, 
collided with Old Pine. One, of about 
five pounds' weight, struck him so 
violently in the side that it remained 
29 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

embedded there. After some years 
the wound was healed over, but this 
fragment remained in the tree until I 
released it. 

During 1859 some one made an axe- 
mark on the old pine that may have 
been intended for a trail-blaze, and 
during the same year another fire 
badly burned and scarred his ankle. 
I wonder if some prospectors came 
this way in 1859 and made camp by 
him. 

Another record of man's visits to the 
tree was made in the summer of 1881, 
when I think a hunting or outing 
party may have camped near here and 
amused themselves by shooting at a 
mark on Old Pine's ankle. Several 
modern rifle-bullets were found em- 
bedded in the wood around or just be- 
30 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

neath a blaze which was made on the 
tree the same year in which the bullets 
had entered it. As both these marks 
were made during the year 1881, it is 
at least possible that this year the old 
pine was used as the background for a 
target during a shooting contest. 

While I was working over the old 
pine, a Fremont squirrel who lived 
near by used every day to stop in his 
busy harvesting of pine-cones to look 
on and scold me n As I watched him 
placing his cones in a hole in the 
ground under the pine-needles, I often 
wondered if one of his buried cones 
would remain there uneaten, to ger- 
minate and expand ever green into the 
air, and become a noble giant to live as 
long and as useful a life as Old Pine. I 
found myself trying to picture the 
31 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

scenes in which this tree would stand 
when the birds came singing back 
from the Southland in the springtime 
of the year 3000. 




ni 





AFTER I had finished my work of 
splitting, studying, and deciphering 
the fragments of the old pine, I went 
to the sawmill and arranged for the 
men to come over that evening after I 
had departed, and burn every piece 
and vestige of the venerable old tree. 
I told them I should be gone by dark 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

on a trip to the summit of Mesa Verde, 
where I was to visit a gnarled old 
cedar- Then I went back and piled 
into a pyramid every fragment of 
root and trunk and broken branch. 
Seating myself upon this pyramid, I 
spent some time that afternoon gaz- 
ing through the autumn sun-glow at 
the hazy Mesa Verde, while my mind 
rebuilt and shifted the scenes of the 
long, long drama in which Old Pine 
had played his part and of which he 
had given us but a few fragmentary 
records. I lingered there dreaming un- 
til twilight. I thought of the cycles 
during which he had stood patient in 
his appointed place, and my imagina- 
tion busied itself with the countless 
experiences that had been recorded, 
and the scenes and pageants he had 




> 

4 



i 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

witnessed but of which he had made 
no record. I wondered if he had en- 
joyed the changing of seasons. I 
knew that he had often boomed or 
hymned in the storm or the breeze. 
Many a monumental robe of snow- 
flowers had he worn. More than a 
thousand times he had beheld the 
earth burst into bloom amid happy 
songs of mating birds; hundreds of 
times in summer he had worn count- 
less crystal rain- jewels in the sunlight 
of the breaking storm, while the bril- 
liant rainbow came and vanished on 
the near-by mountain-side. Ten thou- 
sand times he had stood silent in the 
lonely light of the white and mystic 
moon. 

Twilight was fading into darkness 
when I arose and started on my night 
37 



A THOUSAND-YEAR PINE 

journey for the summit of Mesa Verde. 
When I arrived at the top of the Mesa, 
I looked back and saw a pyramid of 
golden flame standing out in the 
darkness.